Monday, 29 September 2014

American Dipper

Dippers are small terrestrial birds, a little smaller than a Common Starling. They have adapted to an aquatic way of life, hunting for their insect food in fast flowing clear mountain streams.
I had seen the White-capped Dipper in Peru and was hoping to find the American Dipper in North America as we were visiting a number of national parks within the bird’s distribution range with plenty of suitable habitat – fast flowing crystal clear mountain streams.
White-capped Dipper searching for food in a fast flowing stream below Machu Picchu Peru.
There are five species of Dipper worldwide: White-capped and Rufous-throated (South America), Brown (Asia), White-throated (Europe, Middle East and Indian subcontinent and American Dipper found from Panama to Alaska and generally west of the Rocky Mountains. Dippers are not found in Australia. For more information on Dippers see:
During pauses while feeding, the Dipper bobs its whole body up and down, hence the name dipper. The birds are uncommon and solitary, occupying territories along suitable stretches of fast flowing clear streams.
What I find particularly interesting about these terrestrial birds is their adaption to an aquatic way of life. They have dense feathers and a large oil gland, which keeps the feathers water repellent and dry. Their nictitating eye membrane allows them to see under water. They have long legs with strong feet and sharp claws, which allows them to wade in fast flowing water and cling to rocks. Their short wings are used to swim under water in the pursuit of food and they can remain under water for quite some time.
I was keeping an eye out for Dippers in many suitable locations but it was not until late in our Yellowstone National Park trip that I found one on the Gardiner River about seven miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs near the north west corner of the park.
Gardiner River, Yellowstone National Park (photo G Hutchison)
American Dipper on Gardiner River, note the short tail and wing and long legs.
Jumping from a rock into the water to search for food.
Being small and a general brown and grey colour they are not easy to see against the background of a fast flowing mountain stream. The bird I found was actively feeding by working its way upstream into the late afternoon sun. Fortunately it was feeding on my side of the river and I was able to work my way upstream of the bird and wait for it to come by for photo opportunities.
These photos with captions describe the birds feeding activities.
Looking for food from above the water.
Wading in the water looking for food. From time to time the bird completely submerged
as it worked its way upstream.
Looking for food with head under water.
The eye is just visible under water as the bird continues its search for food
among stones and crevices of the rocky river bed.
Now and again the bird took a look at me to check I was not a threat.
The bird managed to capture a dozen or more food items over the 15 minutes or so I observed it. Each time it emerged with an insect it shook the water from it before it was swallowed.
The bird has another insect.
As far as I could see from the photos the insects all looked to be the same species
as they were the same colour and size.
I was pleased to find a Dipper, a small modest and inconspicuous inhabitant of Yellowstone National Park, and get some photos of it feeding.
Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the world (declared in 1872), a large and truly magnificent area with a diversity of breathtaking scenery and lots of large animals such as Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Bighorn Sheep, Black and Grizzly Bears.  The park also has an awe inspiring volcanic history with many volcanic and active geothermal features, Old Faithful Geyser being the most well known one

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some northern California birds

After a spending a couple of weeks in northern California and southern Oregon here is a selection of bird photos mainly taken in and around Davis, Lake Siskiyou near Mt Shasta, Crater Lake NP in Oregon and Lassen Volcanic NP. All are fairly common birds in California and species we do not see in Australia.
Hopefully I have identified all of the birds correctly however if not then any help with ID would be appreciated.

Western Scrub-Jay in backyard at Davis, a common and confiding bird in both suburbia and non urban habitats.

A female Black-chinned Hummingbird in backyard at Davis, note pollen on top of bill, hummingbirds are no doubt important pollinators of many flowering plant species.

White-faced Ibis in Yolo wetland reserve near Davis, this bird is immature as it does not have a white face.
Great Blue Heron in rice crop, Yolo wetland reserve near Davis.

Female Red-winged Blackbird in Yolo wetland, this species is very abundant in wetland areas.

Unidentified raptor at Yolo wetlands. Raptors and Turkey Vultures have been numerous in most places we have been to date.

American White Pelicans over Yolo wetland with ducks?? Brown Pelicans are also found in California.
A White-tailed Kite, with black shoulders it is very similar to the Australian Black-shouldered Kite.
Great Egret Yolo wetlands near Davis.
Black Phoebe Yolo wetlands near Davis.
This Black-necked Stilt photographed at Yolo wetlands is very similar to the Australian Black-winged Stilt.
Lesser Yellowlegs Yolo wetland.
Northern Mockingbird in backyard at Davis. This bird is a famous songster and mimic, often calling at night.
An American Robin in backyard at Davis, this species is very common and well known in the US. Named by an English colonists the species is only very distantly related to robins).
A female Brewer's Blackbird having a drink at Whiskey Lake just west of Redding.
The very common Killdeer on Siskiyou Lake margin near Mt Shasta.
Double-crested Cormorants on marker buoy, Siskiyou Lake.
A female Common Merganser on Siskiyou Lake.
A Red Crossbill at Crater Lake NP Oregon. Note the crossed bill which is adapted for extracting seeds from pine cones.
Dark-eyed Junco at Crater Lake NP.
A Red-breasted Nuthatch, a sittella species (Sitta canadensis), Crater Lake NP.
A Gray Jay at Crater Lake NP.
I think this is an immature Mountain Bluebird at roadside rest stop north of Mt Shasta - I am far from sure about this ID.
A Dusky Flycatcher at roadside rest stop north of Mt Shasta.
Pied-billed Grebe on Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP.
Mountain Chickadee - at first I thought this was a Black-throated Gray Warbler but it has no yellow mark between eye and base of bill. Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP.
Steller's Jay, a common but attractive bird often found around camp and picnic grounds. This one was at Summit Lake camp ground, Lassen Volcanic NP.
A Yellow-rumped Warbler on Kings Creek, Lassen Volcanic NP.
Northern Flicker Mills Creek, Lassen Volcanic NP.
When traveling in an unfamiliar country being able to photograph birds in the field and then work out their ID's later is an invaluable birding tool. Even with photos identifying some species is still a challenge.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Red-tailed Hawk hunting

On a visit to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon USA we found a Red-tailed Hawk hunting Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels on the crater rim at Watchman Overlook.
Crater Lake with Wizard Island cinder cone in foreground.
Waiting for the Red-tailed Hawk to come by at Watchman Overlook.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels on scree slope just below Watchman Overlook.
Mount Mazama in southern Oregon is one of a line of volcanoes ranging from northern California to British Columbia in Canada on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire. Other volcanoes in the region include Mt St Helens and Mt Lassen. The eruptions that destroyed Mount Mazama and lead to the formation of Crater Lake began about 7,700 years ago. The lake is 6.02 miles across (max) and 4.54 miles across (min), has a surface elevation of about 2,000m, a maximum water depth of 592m and holds 4.9 trillion gallons of water.
The volcano and lake are truly spectacular. We took about three hours to drive the 24 mile long access loop road around the crater rim, stopping at many view points to take in the majesty of the place. At the Watchman Overlook stop opposite Wizard Island, a cinder cone in the lake, we found Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels on the rocky scree slope below the overlook.
As we enjoyed the scene, a raptor flew by, effortlessly riding the mild breeze rising up the crater wall from the incredibly blue lake far below.
Red-tailed Hawk cruising along the crater rim.

The hawk stopped for a brief rest, showing the red tail.

It soon became apparent that the Red-tailed Hawk was not interested in the scenery but was focused on squirrels.  

The hawk moved across a wide area of the crater inner slope, stopping to hover in places to look for squirrels, and any other prey opportunities no doubt. From time to time the hawk flew by the slope just under the roadside viewpoint coming very close to us and other tourists taking in the scene.
One eye on us and one scanning the scree for squirrels.
This man did not realise the hawk was so close.
After coming very close to the man pictured above, the bird suddenly landed on a rock in the shade of a young conifer just below where we stood.
The hawk perched on a rock beside a small conifer.
Some minutes had passed when suddenly the hawk took a couple of rapid steps and lunged in under the conifer after a squirrel we had seen fossicking there. As the dust settled the hawk backed out from under the tree, composed itself and flew off. It was no surprise that this hunting method was far too slow and clumsy to catch a very fast and nimble squirrel in its element on the ground.
It was not long however before the hawk was back again hovering above the scree slope below the view point waiting for a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel to become careless, as a number of squirrels enjoyed the warm afternoon sun perched on rocks close to the safety of their retreat holes.
Enjoying the sun with one eye on the sky.
Danger above.
Eyes scanning the scree for a careless squirrel.
The grand scenery of Crater Lake was a magnificent backdrop to view an every day survival drama with squirrels gearing up to spend a harsh winter in their homes in the scree slope under a deep snow pack while the hawk hunted from above for another meal. The hawk will no doubt spend winter in the low lands leaving the squirrels safe in their dens until next spring.